2022 Kawasaki KLR650 Adventure Test: Southwest Tour Ride

When Ultimate Motorcycling Editor Don Williams is given an invitation to a bike introduction, he instinctively knows who to give the task to. In the case of the 2022 Kawasaki KLR650 Adventure, he guessed I’d be interested—and, of course, he was right.

I bought my first new motorcycle off a Newport Beach showroom for a machine that could satisfy my need to ride from my garage to explore roads and trails in Orange County and the nearby Cleveland National Forest. A street-legal bike that could do both highway and dirt.

2022 Kawasaki KLR650 Adventure Test: For Sale

I had been fascinated with races such as the Paris-Dakar Rally—when it actually ran from Paris to Dakar—which made winners heroes of their countries. It was a grueling race of 14 days and 9000 miles. The factory teams built machines that carried large amounts of fuel, night lighting, and were ready for abuse and high speeds.

The new 1987 Kawasaki KLR650 came as close to those machines as I could buy, with financing. That bike would become the gateway drug to my obsession with motorcycling. Soon, I was racing in any American rally-style race available and founding the first dual-sport motorcycle club—Team Dual Dogs in 1989.

Although I organized over 80 rides and two events in the AMA National Dual Sport Series, I never won the Dakar Rally, but I sure rode it like I was in it. It was a learning curve, with lessons and boo-boos along the way. It also got me 14 days of cleaning San Fernando streets for an exhibition of speed citation—there’s always a cop around when a wheelie is in order.

2022 Kawasaki KLR650 Adventure Test: MSRP

Having weekend getaways after a week of work and to release daily stress, I rode every dirt road and trail available in Orange County and, later, the San Fernando Valley. I tested my abilities and those of the KLR650 to the point of extreme.

Fireroads were my Sunday Mass at the Church of The Great Outdoors. I rode the Kawasaki KLR650 hard solo, drifting fireroad turns and attending—with a passenger—many organized rides to show off my learned skills. I had to replace the broken shock with a custom unit from Gil Vaillancourt’s Works Performance, located just down the street from where I lived. His daughter continues the family tradition with Worx Shocks in San Fernando Valley’s Canoga Park.

So, the invitation to attend the two-day 2022 Kawasaki KLR650 Adventure press introduction somewhere near Albuquerque had me excited.

The Imus Ranch

But, first, a little more history about the origin of adventure motorcycling. BMW got the ball rolling in 1980 with the legendary R 80 G/S. The KLR arrived in 1984 as a 600 with a smaller tank. It was pumped up to a 650 in 1987 and rally-looking graphics, and it gained the distinctive six-gallon fuel tank. At the time, the KLR650 was considered a dual-sport bike; now, it’s classified as a mid-sized adventure bike.

Kawasaki had the short-lived KLR650 based-Tengai (“End of the Sky”) model arriving in 1990, featuring Dakar Rally-inspired full-body fairings for more sponsorship placements. I chose to stick with the standard KLR650 for its simplicity and great price.

Now, let’s get started on the 2022 Kawasaki KLR650.

Past owners want to know the new KLR650’s weight, performance compared to past offerings, and if Kawasaki added a 6th gear; oh, and something about a “Doo-Hickey”. A desired six-speed gearbox could allow Kawasaki to tighten the wide gap between 1st and 2nd—that would be nice in treacherous, technical rocky terrain. At the top, maybe 6th gear could be a bit taller for a higher top speed than 90 mph when the police aren’t looking. But does the average owner require that? I would be an exception.

The KLR650 returned to market with current owners asking for very little change, including, per surveys, the cost. The Doo-Hickey has something to do with the cam chain tensioner, something that was never an issue during my ownership with the original KLR650, and I flogged it.

I didn’t like the soft suspension and excessive flex in the frame in my KLR650. Kawasaki worked that out in ’22 by strengthening the swingarm and pivot shaft, axle diameters increased 3mm in the rear and 2mm in the front, and the subframe was integrated into the main frame.

2022 Kawasaki KLR650 Adventure Test: Touring Motorcycle

That additional strengthening and frame design added nearly 25 pounds to this newest generation and lengthened the wheelbase.

The trade-off was worth it. The 2022 Kawasaki KLR650 is more stable, tractable, and predictable on pavement and dirt. It’s not like the KLR650 was ever a lightweight anyhow.

My 425-mile, two-day ride with Kawasaki and some fellow journalists included portions of the Enchanted Circle, utilizing highways, fireroads, rocky creek crossings, and some sketchy two-track scrub brush routes with some challenging silt.

We left what was formerly known as The Imus Ranch (built by Don Imus, now owned by media developer of The Cowboy Channel) located in Ribera, NM, 50 miles southeast of Santa Fe. The first section towards lunch in Red River was primarily on pavement, with some winding parts as the elevation climbed. This gave me a good feel and confidence in leaning the KLR on the street. Beautiful views and quaint towns of Las Vegas, Guadalupita, Angel Fire, and Eagle Nest went by without stops. After lunch, we traversed high elevation fireroads towards our overnight destination in Taos.

I was riding the ABS-fitted model with a request to return home on the non-ABS model. I would not notice any difference. In either dirt or pavement, I didn’t feel the rear tire under the influence of ABS taking over. However, we weren’t going at any high speeds or drifting into turns; I would try that on the non-ABS model on my own later.

I thought the washboard sections of graded dirt roads could be smoothed out by some kind of throttle control—it couldn’t. That’s typical of a street-design tire rather than a true knobby, which cuts through those stutters. We arrived in Taos on more pavement.

Day 2 began with a wonderful view of, and from, the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. Then after some photo sessions, it was off for a real dirt test in two-track high desert terrain offering rocks, ruts, and silt. This put the abilities of riders and bikes to the test, and the challenging trials separated the dirt riders from the street riders. The 2022 Kawasaki KLR650 Adventure was up for the challenge like a champ, with only the limitations of dirt traction of the Dunlop K750 tires holding us back. Fortunately, the off-road-focused owner has more dirt-oriented tire options, with only the 17-inch rear rim size confining choices.

More winding and curving asphalt reminded us why Kawasaki went with the K750s. On asphalt, they provide confidence when leaned over in corners. For street riders, which most KLR owners are, the new 2022 KLR650’s handling is far superior to the past generations. Twisties and tight cornering are effortless and inviting.

Passing, however, requires the setup of a downhill or approaching with a faster running start. Although a twin-cylinder engine does a better job on overtakes, the KLR’s DOHC single is a compromise I can live with.

For everyone else, the ride was over when we hit Albuquerque again and with a night of food, drink, chats, and video interviews. However, I had four more days in the saddle for further testing, with a fifth day on Interstates for the last leg home. After my morning breakfast and everybody’s early flight destinations, I prepared for my own at the empty hotel parking lot.

I loaded the plastic side cases and secured my travel bag on the back rack, then headed south for a 2.5-hour highway ride towards Truth or Consequences, New Mexico (Hot Springs before 1950) to meet up with old friends and Elephant Butte resident Roger Pattison. That included, by coincidence, sidehack traveler Randy Lazar and his dog Doc Holliday.

Along the southern ride down Interstate 25 to meet up with them, I could view storm clouds build to the west. As time progressed, I was aware that I would be facing them the next few days from weather reports. I would have to waterproof my riding gear and luggage. I was concerned about what I would be facing with the KLR in stock form.

In earlier Facebook Messenger conversations, I asked my old acquaintances and fellow event promoters Greg Baumann and Roger to suggest routes for my ride home for the path less beaten before my trip. They both provided excellent choices.

2022 Kawasaki KLR650 Adventure Test: Riding in New Mexico

Roger ran the Land Enchantment Endurance Rally from 1992 to 1994, which I had raced and won (‘93-’94). Greg currently organizes the 6DAZE Dual Sport Adventure in Arizona, and is a local resident. I had put on a dual sport ride from Greg’s Motolink Promotions motocross race at Glen Helen Raceway back in the ’90s. Both offered me tracks of Backcountry Discovery Routes (BDR) from their personal adventures and organized rides.

After meeting up with Roger at his Elephant Butte Adventure Center, which is no longer operating, I took spins in a couple of side-by-sides. I then boxed up a few extra items to have Roger ship back home, repacked the Adventure side cases, and strapped an additional rear seat bag I had brought. This took care of the necessities, but without the typical emergency tools or a spare tube I would usually carry on rides.

I installed a Sena helmet intercom and linked it to my Garmin Tread GPS and my smartphone. I attached the GPS and phone to the KLR’s fairing mount bar, then plugged them into the 80-watt dashboard power ports. Heated grips and clothing can be added for those winter rides—but that isn’t needed in the dead of summer.

Randy and Doc arrived later that evening, and we went for a great dinner of steak and libations at Los Arcos restaurant. Roger was to lead Randy and me on a portion of the New Mexico Backcountry Discovery Route from Elephant Butte to the village of Reserve the next day. Randy also removed several items he carries and stored them with Roger.

The not-quite-hard plastic side cases provided with the Adventure model give 21 liters of storage each. The cases carried clothes, light shoes, snacks, and other miscellaneous items. They’re at first a little awkward from being so flexible, but you quickly learn to open, close, attach, and remove them. My Tourmaster rear seat bag carried a laptop, chargers, and more clothes—I brought large Ziploc bags to keep them dry.

After a hearty breakfast at Johnny B’s Restaurant, we hit the road out of T or C. After some tarmac and graded dirt road into Winston, we split from Randy and his GS-mounted sidehack for our choice of terrain.

We headed to the first section past Chloride and the Pioneer Store Museum to a tight, rocky canyon dirt road with vertical rock on both sides along Chloride Creek—a location of Indian petroglyphs.

Monsoon rains were in place, so I’d be drenched several times for the next four days. Previous days of rain left water puddles, and I hit one without considering the possible outcome. The slimy residue from certain dirt types swapped the front tire from under me, and I went down. The side case and frame protection bars saved me from any chance of getting hurt. But I couldn’t lift the loaded bike up. My 60 years of beating myself up have begun to show.

Back in my late 20s, picking up my ’87 KLR was never a problem. This time, I waited for Roger to turn around. But after 20 minutes, he wasn’t showing up. I figured if I was to begin my multiple-day ride on my own, I better figure out how to do this. One last effort and giving it all, I got it back on the sturdy sidestand.

The plastic side case that helped cushion my fall had popped off, but I was able to remount it. The factory-installed peanut-design semi-knobby Dunlop K750s, which have been on the KLR since 1987, did well in the past day’s conditions—until mud arrived. Tire choice is always a compromise, and I would have chosen differently with my choice of primarily dirt adventures. Roger had turned around when I caught up to him after he had planned a chance to photograph me, but I never arrived for it. Oh, well.

I stopped at every scenic spot the BDR offered to photograph, and the 2022 Kawasaki KLR650 Adventure was in its natural environment.

However, rain was now falling, so I had to concentrate on the routes ahead, avoid mudholes, and any slippery turns. Roger provided a last rocky section while we were getting drenched, and the KLR and Dunlops did fine. Still, it was a workout thinking the conditions would not go well for me and playing it cautiously.

Roger led me on a KTM 350 EXC-F, so I understandably fell behind until confidence returned with traction. We entered our day’s destination of Reserve, NM, and checked into our three-bed motel room with Randy and Doc not far behind to join us. His ride included crossing the Continental Divide and memories of his own. We had dinner at the Main Street 435 Grill (now Adobe Does Café & Bakery) and drinks at Uncle Bill’s Bar, established in 1878, where we chatted with the owner’s family.

We loaded up the next morning, going our separate ways after returning to the Main Street 435 Grill for breakfast. Jeff, the owner, offered suggested routes on my ride to Arizona. My destination of Show Low, Ariz., to begin following GPS tracks Greg sent me.

After a few missed turns past the small Arizona community of Blue, there were more scenic views. Soon, I got a drenching, including pelting hail. My head-to-toe Klim gear kept me dry and not too warm or cold. I arrived unplanned into Greer, grabbing a room at the Lazy Trout Motel behind the Lazy Trout Market. The Lazy Trout empire in Greer also includes Lazy Trout Cabin Rentals.

2022 Kawasaki KLR650 Adventure Test: Riding In Arizona

This adventure was planned for high heat, and the Klim gear was chosen for ventilation. Yet, the unplanned rain was never an issue during this warm monsoon season. The well-designed 2022 Kawasaki KLR650 Adventure’s windscreen also did a good job of keeping the worst of the water away at speed; tucking low helped in rains. I never needed to raise the adjustable windscreen farther up. Tools are required to perform the job, though they are provided in the metal back rack lockbox. The windscreen never hampered my view in the dirt, though some may feel it does when things get slow and rough.

I mostly followed what Greg offered from Greer, modifying a few routes with more thunderstorm threats in the forecast. The first point-of-view was his suggestion to ride up to Green Peak and see the 50-mile, 360-degree views from an elevation of 10,135 feet. Awesome!

From there, I left to find breakfast. The first town before Show Low was Pinetop-Lakeside at 6800 feet, and the first outdoor eatery of Aliberto’s. Before setting off for Show Low and Jerome, I had a hearty machaca con huevos and a little time for social media.

Somehow, I missed Greg’s suggested turnoff from southbound U.S. Route 60. I didn’t realize my mistake until a long wait for a pilot-car-led construction project through the Apache Indian Reservation.

Eventually, I ended up in Globe. I stopped roadside to see what my options were. This is where I chose more Arizona BDR trails north and believed it would be fine. It wasn’t quite that way.

I was using a Butler Motorcycle Map of Arizona at this point, and following the road numbers. BDR sends you north through Globe and a turn onto Highway 188 to Highway 288 (aka Globe-Young Highway). After a turn onto Cherry Creek Road/Forest Road 203, you finally hit dirt—real dirt.

Cherry Creek Road is a terribly marked intersection. It soon becomes a terrible, unmaintained, rocky route of washouts, downed logs, and creek crossings as you ride below the cliff dwellings of the Sierra Ancha Wilderness Area of Tonto National Forest.

Forest Road 203 crosses in and out of Wilderness boundaries, where mechanical repair machinery is not permitted. I spent hours moving boulders to clear a path to jump logs and sharp edges of washouts. Lost hours were adding up, and I was out of drinking water. Still, I had to keep soldiering forward and get out unscathed to survive the unplanned ordeal.

Careful evaluation of work and approach was required, as I didn’t want to drop the motorcycle or let the front wheel slip into a washed-out rut and down the steep banks. This could be done easier on the fully dirt-oriented dual-sport bikes.

2022 Kawasaki KLR650 Adventure Test: Dual Sport Motorcycle Riding

There were no signs of travelers until I saw some side-by-side tracks and rubber-marked boulders in the bigger washouts as I headed farther out. They couldn’t have gotten any more south unless they also got out of their machines and did hard labor. It was heavily rocky for miles, yet the KLR kept going. Unfortunately, that gap between 1st and 2nd gears reared its ugly head. Regardless, lugging 2nd gear lets the big thumper’s torque do its job, keeping it going with the same confidence I had in the old ’87.

I got a lot of dinging from rocks kicked up by the front tire and hitting the engine guards due to the relatively low 8.3 inches of ground clearance. Nothing was high speed, nothing bottomed out, and the 2022 KLR650 felt very capable thanks to the new torsional strength in both the suspension and frame. Eventually, I manhandled the bike out. In return for my efforts, I saw what most people don’t see—picturesque views of native cliff dwellings.

Light was starting to show at the end of Hell Tunnel as I arrived on a graded dirt road, which I took into the town of Young.

2022 Kawasaki KLR650 Adventure Test: Street Legal Dirt Bike

I passed Pleasant Valley Inn, which I would later return to, going straight for fuel and water at Buddi Gas and Mini Mart, right at the edge of town.

With dark rain clouds north towards my destination, I called it another day. After heavy sweating from clearing trail, a hot shower was much needed. The next day’s plan was to return to Greg’s route recommendations.

A little asphalt and onto high-speed graded dirt roads north to Highway 260. After a discussion with Greg, Mogollon Rim Road was the chosen route due to its scenic views. A great choice.

2022 Kawasaki KLR650 Adventure Test: Touring on a Motorcycle

The remnants of Hurricane Nora were still a threat to bring heavy showers, so I needed to dodge all the passing cells I could. I got into Camp Verde in search of another hearty late breakfast, and set off to Jerome for a visit.

Greg and friend Chris Crawford suggested routes into and out of Jerome, but my goal was to get through Prescott and onto Interstate 40 to Needles, where rain was forecast.

I wasn’t worried about freezing or full-body saturation. I just don’t like riding wet on busy highways or Interstates. If I did, I would choose a tire for wet street use. I’m primarily an off-roader and knobby-tire abuser, not a commuter.

Regardless, the KLR650 does both, and this new generation edition does both even better with new geometry, the extended swingarm, and a longer 60.6-inch wheelbase. The KLR650 has genuinely transitioned from big dual-sport bike to agile ADV motorcycle.

With 6.1 gallons of fuel aboard with the tank topped off, the 2022 Kawasaki KLR650 Adventure can go long distances, with the new fuel injection increasing efficiency. Cruising 80+ mph empties the tank faster, of course, and the adding of a tall 6th gear may not achieve much more speed without additional motor power. The new LCD dashboard of digital readouts provided a fuel gauge to monitor range between fill-ups. There is no longer a tachometer, and I never felt the need for it on either the 2022 or my ’87.

Passing at these highway speeds requires the help of a good tailwind. Horsepower is at a minimum, again, for the KLR650, with torque as a priority. You’ll feel the power drop when you run the revs past its power peak, and getting over 90 mph is a bit of reach. With the new KLR’s O2 sensor, the EFI could perhaps be tweaked with an aftermarket ECU offering adjustable fuel/timing maps—sorry, EPA.

With just a few sprinkles, I arrived in Needles on the western shore of the Colorado River for a restaurant meal next to my Red Roof Inn stay. Timing also played into my morning departure and the four-hour ride home to Tehachapi, just up from the hottest section of my ride through Boron and Mojave.

Eight days and 1700+ miles in the plushest of seats offered on today’s dual-sport/adventure bikes must be noted as a relief as well, butt (heh) it was time for a little relief on my older derrière.

With improved braking components, engine upgrades with the improved cam tensioner and camshaft profiles, fuel injection, reduced exhaust muffler diameter, transmission gear dogs, and shift fork improvements, plus thrust-needle bearing at the clutch replacing ball bearings, the 35-year-old design is rejuvenated and should be around another 35 years.

Revisiting the old favorite proved again the updated 2022 Kawasaki KLR650 Adventure is a very capable, reliable dual Sport, er, mid-size ADV motorcycle for an affordable single-cylinder, multi-purpose machine.

Photography by Damon Powell

2022 Kawasaki KLR650 Adventure Specs


  • Type: Single cylinder
  • Displacement: 652cc
  • Bore x stroke: 100 x 83mm
  • Compression ratio: 9.8:1
  • Valvetrain: DOHC; 4 valves
  • Fueling: Keihin EFI w/ 40mm throttle body
  • Transmission: 5-speed
  • Final drive: Chain


  • Front suspension; travel: Non-adjustable 41mm fork; 7.9 inches
  • Rear suspension; travel: Linkage-assisted spring-preload and rebound-damping adjustable shock; 7.3 inches
  • Tires: Dunlop K750
  • Front tire: 90/90 x 21
  • Rear tire: 130/80 x 17
  • Front brake: 300mm disc
  • Rear brake: 240mm disc
  • ABS: Optional ($300)


  • Wheelbase: 60.6 inches
  • Rake: 30 degrees
  • Trail: 4.8 inches
  • Seat height: 34.3 inches
  • Fuel capacity: 6.1 gallons
  • Curb weight: 487 pounds
  • Color: Cypher Camo Gray

2022 Kawasaki KLR650 Adventure Price: $7999 MSRP

2022 Kawasaki KLR650 Adventure Test and Southwest Tour Photo Gallery